[App Fridays] Chingari’s social audio app Fireside is a Clubhouse clone, with local language support

TikTok rival Chingari launched Fireside, a Clubhouse-like social audio app, in May. Despite garnering one lakh installs, it leaves a lot to be desired.
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After Clubhouse became a runaway hit, social audio apps are in vogue. While the a16z-backed invite-only app continues to be in beta, it has spurred an all-new category of voice-based social media apps that have caught users’ fancy. 

Globally, there’s Twitter Spaces (which is arguably the most potent CH competitor), Discord’s Stage Channels, Facebook’s WIP Clubhouse rival, Telegram’s untitled audio feature, and Reddit’s and LinkedIn’s reported social audio products. 

In India, there’s Leher (which was founded in 2018, but it gained traction only last year), and recent launches like FLYX’s Bakstage and Fireside — an audio-based social networking app launched by Bengaluru-based Chingari (TikTok’s Indian alternative). 

Chingari was launched last year with much fanfare post the TikTok ban, which led to a frenzy in India’s short-video app segment. The startup’s co-founder Aditya Kothari is one of the brains behind the Fireside app, which launched in early May. 

In a month, Fireside has clocked over 100,000 installs on Google Play Store, and is one of the top 10 apps in the ‘Lifestyle’ category. It is available on iOS too.

Sumit Ghosh, Co-founder and CEO, Fireside, said in a launch statement, “Fireside aims to cater to the Indian market with clubs and groups that are tailored to suit local needs and sensibilities.”

Key app features

Just like Clubhouse, Fireside lets users start and join audio conversations in virtual ‘rooms’. You can voice your thoughts or simply be a passive listener in ‘Open’ or ‘Closed’ rooms with friends, peers, celebrities, or strangers. 

However, unlike Clubhouse, there is no option to start ‘Social’ rooms (visible to people whom moderators follow) on Fireside. Every room has Clubhouse-like features, including a stage (Chatbox) for speakers, Raise Hand, Leave Room, and Invite Friend.

The homepage has a ‘Start a Room’ button, mimicking Clubhouse. 

Users can start rooms in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada. Topics could range from serious to funny, trivial to frivolous, and everything in between. Debates, discussions, discourses, chats, live performances — all kinds of live, interactive audio events can be hosted on the app. 

Click on the ‘Explore’ tab on the Fireside homepage to discover interest-based rooms on Personal Finance, Startups, Fitness, History, Technology, Design, Travel, Parenting, Music, Marketing, Women's Issues, LGBTQ+ Rights, and more.

Fireside also offers a 24X7 voice-assisted COVID-19 helpline (COVID Citizens) that finds a separate tab on the homepage. These city-based COVID helplines, which you can enter with a single tap, are aimed at helping distressed families in the pandemic. 

You can reach out and communicate with volunteers for all support requirements from oxygen cylinders to medicines to hospital bed availability. The platform also hosts free counselling rooms for COVID-19 patients and their families. 

The third and final tab on the home page is ‘Communities’, which is the Fireside equivalent of Clubs. All interest-based communities you join are displayed here.  

Using the ‘Create Community’ feature, everyone can start open or invite-only clubs, add topics, start rooms, host scheduled events, and get members to join. 

Lastly, in the settings, you can link your Twitter account to the Fireside profile, and tweak interests or language settings. There is no option to pause notifications. 

Verdict: An inadequate Clubhouse clone

Fireside may have been hurriedly built and released by the Chingari team. 

Given the hype generated by Clubhouse over the past one year, every social media company worth its salt wants to get into the happening social audio space. 

Out of Fireside’s many problems, the most unfortunate is that its release coincided with the Android launch of Clubhouse, which means all the FOMO and latent user demand that existed in the market is already being catered to by the latter.

Image: Shutterstock

Indians are now joining Clubhouse by the hordes instead of looking for ‘Made in India’ alternatives to it. India is already one of the top markets for the Silicon Valley-based unicorn. 

Within two weeks of its Android launch, Clubhouse garnered more than one million installs from India, according to Sensor Tower data.

Two, Fireside’s UI is unappealing, and the discovery is broken with the homepage flooded with non-active rooms. Plus, there’s a content quality problem too. 

Fireside may have been launched with a good intention to tap into a burgeoning segment of social media, but it leaves a lot to be desired. The app needs a major overhaul if it has to become the David to Clubhouse’s Goliath. 

Or else, it will go down as just another me-too product that failed to make a mark. 

Edited by Megha Reddy

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